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North Hills Monthly

Stress-free Holidays are a Gift You Give Yourself

Oct 30, 2015 03:08PM ● By Denise Schreiber
"Small cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast." — Alice W. Brotherton

The holidays are upon us and there is a lot to do, including gift buying and decorating, sending out greeting cards, baking cookies and preparing for the onslaught of visiting guests. For some, it can become stressful to the point where they just don’t want to do it anymore— so I’d like to offer some suggestions to make this time of year a little less crazy.

Other than children, do you really need to buy a gift for everyone in your family? If you dread the thought of getting the perfect gift for everyone on your list, start a Secret Santa gift list. Set a price for gifts that won’t break the budget, and have everyone write down one or two items that they would love to have in that price range. Everyone draws a name from a bowl, and that’s it! One and done! Our family started this a couple of years ago, and it has worked out wonderfully.

Cookie baking can be fun, especially if you have small children. Take the time to make some simple cookies together, because those memories will stay with your kids forever. A dozen or so cookies will suffice, and they can be served on Christmas Eve to Santa and your guests. However, if you want more cookies but don’t want the hassle, start a cookie exchange with some friends. After my mother passed away a few years ago, I didn’t want to bake because that was something that we had always done together. A friend convinced me to join a cookie exchange, and now the six of us make seven dozen cookies (that extra dozen is just for sampling). We have a potluck dinner at one of our houses, exchange recipes and drink a little wine in celebration. We’ve even had themes, such as heritage-based cookies, no-bake cookies, fruit cookies and more. It’s a wonderful and relaxing night out during the craziest time of year. Just make sure to keep your group small; you don’t want too many people in the exchange because then you’re right back to baking massive amounts of cookies.

Unless you’re Martha Stewart, decorating your home needn’t be done on a massive scale. Rotate your decorations year to year, so that when you take them out, they look new to visitors. Love that pine smell? Use pieces of fresh white pine in a floral arrangement. Don’t use spruce pieces—pine needles are very soft, whereas spruce needles are sharp and have an odor when kept indoors. Even if you have a live tree, you can bring the floral arrangement into the house long before you get your tree to provide that holiday smell.

Host a holiday party! I know, you’re thinking that I have lost my mind completely. Even if you have no time to clean your house, you can hire a maid service to help. I had knee surgery a couple of years ago, and I hired a service to clean just the public rooms of the house a couple of days before the party. There was no last-minute cleaning frenzy, and we ended up hosting a great party with friends, neighbors and family members.

Send the invitation out with your greeting cards; I print mine out on the computer and use a few lines of a holiday song as part of the invitation. I prefer to hold our party on a Friday, so it doesn’t interfere with school plays and other parties. The card itself is a photo card with pictures of my cats dressed in their holiday outfits. And food for the party is simple. I have a pre-cooked ham that I dress up a bit and serve cold, some seafood also served cold, and pre-cooked stuffed chicken rolls from a local store that just need to be heated up. Add some breads and condiments, and you’re set.

People always bring side dishes, along with cheese and fruit, so make sure to leave room on the table for all of that food. And remember to have options available for those who have food allergies. I purchase some fancy disposable plates, silverware and holiday napkins, and that’s it. After the party, there’s no dishwashing left to do—you just take out the garbage.

And now you can enjoy the holidays!